The first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861. It was the beginning of a war, the scope of which was beyond the general citizenry’s imagination. This wasn’t only a beginning, but the ending of months of political and diplomatic failures that highlighted just how unprepared everyone was for the fight about to commence.
David Detzer’s Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston and the Beginning of the Civil War examines both the beginnings and endings that took place in and around Charleston during the Secession Winter of 1860 and the following spring that resulted in the fateful cannon shot that started the war.
Our cast of “characters” include:
It takes a special author to create suspense and a sense of urgency in a story of which we know the ending. Detzer does this. Even though we know that the Confederates fire on Fort Sumter, as we watch the calendar pages turn, the deft maneuvering by Union Major Robert Anderson, and the desperate incompetence of President Buchanan produce moments of frustration and disbelief for the reader.
Detzer paints Anderson as a man who is trying his best and being misunderstood at every turn. It doesn’t help that he has little to no political or military support aside from vague orders and non-specific encouragement. Further complicating issues is the fact that South Carolina is determined to see Anderson’s actions as coercion intended to force a military engagement despite the actions being taken deliberately intended to deescalate tensions to the extent his vague orders allowed.
There were so many times in the months between South Carolina’s declaration of secession and the bombardment of Sumter that could have initiated war (firing on of the Star of the West and the clumsy and comical efforts of the captain of the ship Shannon) that the ending seemed inevitable. We are only left wondering exactly when the fuse would burn up and the powder keg blow.
It is important to note that only the final two chapters deal with the actual bombardment of Fort Sumter. It is a compelling part of the story, but it is the easiest and most straightforward part. The bulk of this book is about politics and diplomacy and the failures and success of each, which makes this more of a political thriller than a military history.
This book is a great introduction into the messy politics of revolt, revolution and the start of a civil war. It reads like a novel, with well drawn characters you will care about. A great book for mature readers interested in how this kind of conflict starts, and those who love a good novel of political intrigue.
Toni is a wife, mom and history buff who loves bringing the Civil War to life for family members of all ages.